March can be rather uninspiring. Gray, dull, still cold. Sure, the calendar says it’s spring, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. I’d love to be switching to my warm-weather eating regimen, trading in the braised meats and polenta for asparagus and peas, the hearty kale for tender baby arugula, or skip ahead to August for a ripe, red tomato. But it’s just not going to happen for a while. And, oh, what I’d give to be sitting in a lawn chair, sipping rosé, feeling the sun on my face.
It’ll happen. Spring will come, summer will follow. In the meantime, I’m cheating on this cold “spring” and skipping ahead to summer flavors. I’m popping a can of San Marzano tomatoes, buying overpriced supermarket basil and a ball of fresh Mozzarella, and I’m going to pack the flavors of a Margherita pizza or a Caprese salad into risotto. I might even crank up the furnace and eat it while wearing a sundress.
This risotto is a good transition. Risotto is, by nature, incredibly comforting and warming. This one is packed with your favorite flavors of summer and bits of softly melted Mozzarella. No, I didn’t pluck the tomatoes from my own garden and no, I won’t be enjoying this al fresco, but it’ll get me through.
Alright, let’s cook. This risotto is hardly more difficult to make than assembling a Caprese salad and will deliver the same punch of summery flavors. Mince an onion and crush a can of good plum tomatoes. Sauté the onion in olive oil, add Arborio rice. Toast the rice until you can hear it “clicking” as it moves around the pan. Pour in a cup of white wine, but make sure to save a glass for yourself; your fake summer meal wouldn’t be complete without one. Add the tomatoes and let the rice absorb most of their juices. Slowly add warm broth until the rice is just tender and suspended in luscious, tomatoey goodness.
Turn the burner off and toss in a handful of torn basil leaves. Add luxuriousness with a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper and stir in pieces of fresh mozzarella, at the very last minute.
Sorry, March. Your dirty snow isn’t going to get me down this year; I’ve got my Risotto alla Margherita to get me through to better days.
- 1 small White Onion, minced
- 1 c. Arborio Rice
- 1 c. Dry White Wine
- 1 14 oz. can San Marzano Tomatoes, crushed
- 2 c. Chicken or Vegetable Broth (homemade or low-sodium), warm (keep it at a low simmer on an adjacent burner)
- 1 Tbsp. Butter
- 10 large Basil Leaves, torn
- 1 medium ball Fresh Mozzarella, torn in bite-sized pieces
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Heat about 2 tsp. olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, lightly salt, and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast for about a minute until the rice is dry and makes clicking noises as you stir it around the pan. Add the white wine and let the rice absorb almost all of it. Add the crushed tomatoes, let the liquid come up to a bubble, then reduce the heat to a simmer. When the rice has absorbed most of this liquid, add about a third of the warm broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, adding more broth as the rice absorbs the liquid.
- After about 20 minutes, the rice should be cooked (but not mushy!) and you are ready to finish the risotto. Remove from heat. Add butter and season to taste. Scatter the mozzarella and basil over the top and gently stir to combine. You want the mozzarella to melt a bit but you still want to be able to see pieces and taste its freshness. The basil will wilt a bit but retain its fresh summery flavor.
- Divide risotto between warm bowls. Drizzle with a touch of good olive oil and garnish with a couple of pretty basil leaves, if desired.